The Historic Dockyard is located on the outskirts of Chatham town centre. If you are from the area, it’s near the Dockside Outlet Centre just before you hit St Mary’s Island. If you aren’t from the area, may be best to follow your sat nav as there are a few one ways roads around Chatham’s ring road. However, Chatham Dockyard is well signposted and there’s lots of parking.
In Medway, it’s one of the iconic pieces of the history of the area and one that I have a close link to. My Grandad worked at the Dockyard for many years. On our visit we actually spotted an old photo taken at the launch of the Ocelot submarine which he was in – what a superb part of our day.
Where do I start with what there is to see and do. I could probably fill a whole book with how much is there, but most people will visit for a day, so let me tell you about the highlights.
I’m going to start with the submarine Ocelot. It was built in 1962 and it was the last Royal Navy warship to be built at Chatham Dockyard. So it really does have a special place there. You can actually go into the submarine and have a good look around. It’s a little cramped as you can imagine and I would say you have to be a little flexible to get through the round hatches that take you from one section of the submarine to the other.
It was fascinating seeing all the equipment onboard and also to see how the crew must have lived. The sleeping compartments were pretty small. I don’t think I would have liked to work on a submarine, it must have been pretty claustrophobic.
It’s well worth booking on to a tour of the ropery. I didn’t realise until our visit that it is still a fully functional ropery. The tour takes you back to 1875 to times when working standards were a little more ropey (sorry! Pun intended) and the need for ropes was at its greatest as much rope was needed to help support the build and maintenance of Britain’s Naval fleet.
Our tour guide was hilarious, perfectly in character all throughout the tour and she gave an informative but engaging overview of how the ropery operates back in 1875 but also how it works in today’s more modern era. There was even a live demonstration of how to make rope, utilising child labour (visiting children) and some of the equipment from the era. It was truly fascinating and truly a highlight. The ropery is actually ¼ of a mile long – that’s actually a sight to behold in itself.
This is a WW2 destroyer which was built in 1944. What I found interesting is that it was predominantly built by women. It’s a masterpiece. You can wander pretty much freely around HMS Cavalier and there’s lots of step ladders taking you up and down to the different levels. You can see where the different levels of crew would sleep – captain’s quarters were much nicer than the lower down crew’s. You can even go and sit in the Captain’s Chair on deck and imagine yourself sailing this great vessel.
There’s some pretty big guns too, but this isn’t what the ship was known for, it was its speed. It was one of the fastest in the fleet at the time, it’s probably one of the main reasons it was never destroyed.
If any of the above don’t take your fancy, there’s so much more. There’s the RNLI lifeboat collection, The No. 1 Smithery, which holds an amazing collection of replica ships, often created by inmates in their ‘spare time’. There’s also a pipe bending floor which is interesting to see.
There’s another warship called HMS Gannet which you can go onboard and have a look around. There’s large collections of artefacts, machinery and other historical bits and pieces which are houses across different buildings. You’ll literally struggle to fit it all in.
My fiancée and I took my parents, as it was my Dad’s Dad who worked at the Dockyard and he’s not been there for years. We really enjoyed our visit. What struck us most is the knowledge the team have there. There were so many helpful people and they knew so much about the history of the Chatham Dockyard.
Chatham Dockyard run lots of events throughout the year, including, this year, a celebration of the 350th anniversary of the Battle of Medway. I would say it’s a great day out for any age group. There’s lots to see and do. An annual ticket is £22 for an adult and £13 for a child over 5 years old. There are other concessions and family tickets available.
Disclosure: We were extended complimentary tickets to visit the Historic Dockyard. But as always, my opinions are my own.
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